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Genocide in Rural Gujarat: The Experience of Dahod District
A report prepared by
Forum Against oppression of Women and Aawaaz-E-Niswaan
Bombay, June 2002
Santrampur (Panchmahals District)
In the course of our visits, we also went to camps in Santrampur town as we were told that no teams had been able to visit these camps earlier. This town is at the border between the Panchmahals district and Dahod district, as are the villages around it. During our visits it became clear that though at the time of the division of the Panchmahals and Dahod districts, this whole area had been made part of Dahod, some 8-10 months earlier, this area had been shifted back to the Panchmahals. In any case, there has been much violence in the area and two of our teams visited the camps in Santrampur and the villages around. We also collected testimonies for the Concerned Citizens' Tribunal from these villages.
The patterns of attack and destruction are fairly similar to those in the Dahod district and thus are not repeated here in detail. We are, however, including the situation of the camps in Santrampur as of May 11, and some documents and details of Sant village, Malvan, Mora, and Mota Sarnaiya.
The Camps in Santrampur town
Santrampur village is itself a mixed population, with 80% of the buildings belonging to members of the Muslim community. Hindus and Muslims stay in totally mixed areas. Muslims own most of the shops rented to Hindu shopkeepers, so those have not been damaged. There is no strong RSS or VHP presence in the village. However, Muslims in the villages on all four sides of Santrampur were targeted for attack.
The vast majority of physical attacks and destruction of property occurred within a 10 km radius of the town of Santrampur itself, though the town also houses people from villages around 20 km away. Violence began in earnest on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of March, and lasted roughly 20 days. An estimated 2000 people were affected in the Santrampur area (1647 people were affected in Santrampur Taluka). The relief camps in Santrampur housed roughly 2000 people March 1-17. That number reduced then to 1300. Some people are in the process of moving to their villages and this number is now reducing.
As of 1st May people from the following villages had taken shelter in Santrampur.
1. Vajiakhut (all 16 houses of Muslims were burnt): 78 people (23 men, 18 women, 37 children)
2. Sant (old city of Santrampur) : 326 (99 men, 83 women, 155 children)
3. Navi Vasahat : 181 (46 men, 48 women, 87 children)
4. Mota Sarnaiya, 18km from Santrampur, toward Sukhsar: 393 (127 men, 108 women, 158 children)
5. Malvan: 167 (49 men, 45 women, 73 children)
6. Jala Sag: 14 (4 men, 8 women, 7 children)
7. Kadana: 346
By 1st May, the central camp had been removed and some people had returned to their villages or to their relatives. The remaining people were housed in different structures within the village, i.e. a school, a cattle auction market yard, and one or two rooms in buildings in the town. Living conditions are extremely poor, with lack of access to medical attention, lack of income to purchase basic necessities, and complete reliance on rations which are slow in being distributed, and inadequate in quantity. As in other places rations will only last through May 31. No relief or resettlement plans have been made for these people after the camp is closed.
At the time of our fact-finding trips, by 11th May, there were three smaller camps in Santrampur, housing people from Navi Vasahat, Mota Sarnaiya, and Sant. There were also some people from other villages who, by this time, had rented one or two rooms in the town from relatives or friends and were staying there until they could decide whether or not returning to their villages and rebuilding their destroyed property and livelihoods is a possibility.
Mota Sarnaiya: The camp in which the 400 people of this village are staying is actually a market place, which is full of cow dung and flies. It is in a terrible state. They do not have tents, or any cloth/mattress to spread on ground. There is also no electrical connection and thus no fans or light. They have been using some water from a bore well. The water tankers come to this camp at an average gap of 15 days. They have begun cooking their morning meal in the camp itself. The evening meal is with everyone else in all the camps. Many children and women look extremely ill and weak. They also need medical, including gynaecological, services.
The sequence of events here is as follows. On Saturday, 2nd March, they were warned that a big mob was coming in to the village. Around 393 people from this village ran into the jungle into hiding. But people came after them. They attacked them with swords and stones. People got very badly injured. We actually saw the wounds of one person, who had chunks of muscles from hands and back chopped off.
After hiding in the jungle for a whole day, they came back to village to have a look at what had happened, at around 8.00 p.m. on Saturday. Everything had been looted from all the houses (silver jewellery, especially, which is the way that most people saved all of their personal wealth). Houses were totally damaged and burnt. The same night many proceeded to a village 1 km from Mota Sarniaya called Baria ki Hatod, where Adivasi people gave many of them hiding places and shelter. Late Sunday night the army came looking for them and took them to Santrampur in army trucks on Monday morning.
This village was in a somewhat unique position. These people were not ready to return back to their village. They said that we would rather die than go back to the village. All the residents were speaking in one voice on this and refusing to go back at all. There was tremendous pressure on them as is on all other displaced people to go back. They were requesting that they should be settled in Santrampur. The community is in dialogue with local administration on this issue. However no result is in sight.
The residents of this village categorically refused to talk about sexual assault on women, though women did say that their clothes were ripped apart. But their experience of the mob attacks as well as the fear of assault on women is part of why these people do not want to go back at all, even though they have been living in Mota Sarnaiya for five to seven generations. There is a deep silence around the fears which make the people refuse to go back.
Another clear reason is the isolation they feel from other villagers. When the attack happened, the Muslim villagers ran to their Adivasi neighbours for shelter. They reported having previously good relations with their neighbours, who now said "who would protect people like you?" Now they have been told by the other residents of their village that if they want to come back they must "live and behave like us," and not build any mosques or madarasas. Not everyone has received the compensation for their destroyed houses so far and whatever money has come has been highly inadequate. They have made a written complaint naming 10 perpetrators of violence in their village.
Such are the pressures that even though all of them were so clear until the 11th of May that they did not want to go back, by the 21st of May, however, the scene had changed completely. Men had returned to clean up the houses and the families were also preparing to go back.
Sant village is actually the old city of Santrampur. From here around 326 people were in the relief camp. These people are housed in semi constructed buildings in the town. They arrived here on the 1st of March and no one had gone back since. Most of their houses and shops that were burnt and looted were in front of the police chowki. The police also helped the mob to break open the locks of the shops and houses and actively encouraged the mob to carry out looting. All the shops and houses of Muslims in Sant today are looted and burnt. The army came only on 3rd when all had been looted and everything had been reduced to ashes.
These people too have received extremely inadequate compensation wherever they have, and are refusing to go back till the guilty are punished and some accommodation and security is provided to them. Some residents, who have been injured, have filed complaints and have mentioned individual attackers by name but no action has been taken against any one so far. The pressure to arrive at a compromise and take back the names is extreme.
On 28th of February in Diwada Colony, 11 kms from Santrampur, Massod Mohammad Hanif Sheikh, a handicapped boy, was killed by a mob. A number of the persons have been identified and FIRs lodged , but only one has been arrested so far. A mob descended on this house demanded that women of the house should be handed over to them. When the family refused to comply they set fire to the house. People managed to run away from the house which had been set on fire, but this boy remained trapped, was attacked and died. Diwada Colony is close to Mandi Mohri, where another death was reported.
Malvan: In the case of this village two points of special note are: the role of the police and the authorities at the time of the attacks and later at the time of achieving a "compro(mise)". At this point of time most of the residents have either moved back after compromising and signing affidavits or are in the process of doing so.
People from Malvan arrived in Santrampur March 2nd. The Muslims here were on very friendly terms with other Hindus. There has been no history of any communal violence in Malvan in the past. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened in Malvan. But of late the village has strong presence of VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal.
On 28th of February a rally was organized by Bajrang Dal and VHP at 4.30 p.m. The whole village had gathered there. After the rally at 6:30 p.m. the first attacks started. The first structures to be attacked and destroyed were a concrete chabutra built to feed birds (a Jain traditional structure which had been rebuilt by the Muslim community) and then a Madarasa. Three houses and shops near the bus-stand were attacked after this, but no lives were lost.
By evening all the Muslims left the village and went into hiding places in the nearby hills. Between Thursday night and Friday morning, they called every official they knew for help, and even met some high authorities of Panchmahals district. Then they came and lodged a complaint in the Santrampur police station. Police assured them help and dropped them back to Malvan on Friday morning.
They also went to contacts in all political parties, who said "if you have a problem, go to the police." When they went to the police station, they were told that they have to go to Santrampur. When violence started, on the 1st, they were told that there were not enough police to provide protection. The response from police was "orders agay se hai." By 3.00 p.m. on Friday, the crowds started gathering again. So the people left their homes and fled into the hills and sat there in hiding.
25 pucca houses, and all kutcha houses, belonging to Muslims were burned down. The furniture and everything of value was looted first, then everything else was burned to the ground. That night all the houses and shops were looted and burnt. All the furniture and belongings were taken away. The damage is estimated at being at least Rs. 2.5 crores. The major businesses have already been destroyed and some areas where the Muslims had their shops/ galas, have been overtaken by the Hindus in the village. There is no scope for any sort of recovery of any of this taken over space.
On Saturday slowly people went back to the village. The same people who were roaming with swords in the night, offered them tea when these people were sitting in front of their burning houses. Some retired CBI officer helped them. They got in touch with Santrampur. The Muslim community from Santrampur sent them vehicles. Even some SRP, police vehicles were also there. And first all women and children were brought to Santrampur by 6.30 p.m. on 2nd March, and then all the men were brought in by 11.00 p.m.
First everyone in the village decided to file FIRs naming the culprits. But finally only six people filed FIR naming 16 attackers. They were all threatened with further violence if they pursued the FIR.
At the time of the peace meetings which were conducted between the Hindu and Muslim communities and the State representative, a formula for compromise was put forth. It was agreed that the Muslim residents would prepare affidavits withdrawing the names of the culprits which they had included in the FIR and state that they were misled and were wrong. The FIRs would remain against unidentified mobs from outside, and in exchange these people would be allowed to come back and not be attacked. These affidavits have already been filed and people have started moving back.
To further mark the vulnerability of these people, there was a news report published in "Sandesh" on the 9th of May which stated that - The Muslims had given wrong names of innocent Hindus and now have taken them back. It further names the Muslims who have taken back the names as well as the Hindus whose names have been taken back.
Mora village: This village has an overall population of about 6,000 to 7,000 of which the Muslim population is 450 persons owning 115 houses. The attacks on this village started from the morning of March 1 and continued intermittently till the evening of March 2. The people were saved as they gathered in the mosque and one big concrete house in the village till they were taken away to the Godhra camp. These were set on fire also but the army arrived in time to save them and so there was no loss of life in the village.
Most of the houses, shops, animals and businesses have been completely destroyed, as has the mosque. Some houses whose structures are intact have, however, been totally looted. All the residents have been shifted back from Godhra since the 14th of April. They have filed complaints giving names of the perpetrators but no action has been taken. In fact, even now, the Hindus of the village distribute leaflets inciting violence against the Muslims every few days. There is a deep sense of anger as well as insecurity but in the absence of any other recourse, the people are doing what they can. They willingly shared copies of their complaints with us as well as the names of the people involved in the attacks and those involved in the printing and distribution of leaflets.